Updated on 08.05.07

The Scoop On Volumetrics

Trent Hamm

A significant number of readers have requested that I post a detailed discussion of my experiences using the Volumetric weight control plan, so here goes.

VolumetricsAbout a month and a half ago, I mentioned that I was trying out the Volumetric weight control plan as described in the book with the same title. So far, it’s been reasonably successful; I’ve dropped about eleven pounds in about six weeks, with a big loss the first week, a rebound in the third week, and a steady pound and a half a week loss since then. Better yet, it feels very sustainable, as though I could keep doing it forever and not be lost in a series of cravings or hunger.

I was interested in trying out this plan because my biggest problem isn’t choosing healthy foods (I like most vegetables, especially tomatoes and broccoli), but that I tend to eat a lot at one sitting, and thus making a single bad choice is the equivalent of eating a fat bomb. I’m also a large guy – six and a half feet tall – so although I’m somewhat overweight, my frame does hide it somewhat well.

A brief description of how Volumetrics works Volumetrics is a calorie-based diet – that’s the primary focus of it. It’s mostly concerned about the energy content of food, which is what a calorie describes.

The idea here is to identify portions of foods with a specific caloric content (usually 100 calories or 200 calories) and then eat a specific number of those portions throughout the day. This means identifying base foods that are low in calories and eating them in volume (like tomatoes) while still enjoying foods you like (in small portions).

Here’s an example: I love to make homemade pizzas. I make my own dough, slather it with pepperoni and lots of cheese, and then bake it in the oven. The only problem is that I like to eat three slices of the pizza when I’m done, and this turns out to be a health bomb. Volumetrics says go ahead and eat those three slices after you make a few switches: replace the pepperoni with lean canadian bacon, swap out the ordinary mozzarella for low-fat mozzarella (and use a third less cheese), and sprinkle tomato pieces on the pizza to make it more filling (as tomatoes are very low in calories). It’s all modular, though – I could go for a cheese and tomato pizza and eat my three pieces, and then still have space for other things.

Another big encouragement of the plan is to drink plenty of water – water is filling and has no calories. So, I could have those pieces of pizza with a big tall glass of water, fill myself up plenty, and be doing just fine.

Exercise The plan strongly encourages an exercise component, again breaking things down into pieces that are worth 100, 150, or 200 calories. Thus, if you do these exercise pieces, you can effectively have a lower calorie day. The exercises vary in impact, from walking two miles in thirty minutes to walking up and down stairs for fifteen minutes. These each burn 150 calories; the book recommends doing at least two of them a day. I’ve taken to doing the two miles in thirty minutes twice a day, myself, mixing in a few other things on occasion, and I can feel myself getting into better shape.

Advantages I have no problem getting full with this program. That’s the big advantage for me – whenever I would try one in the past, I would always get hungry because of the tight restrictions on portions. It also gives me a lot of freedom for cooking at home – basically, I just study the caloric content of all ingredients, figure up how many calories are in the complete thing I’m making, and figure out which portion of it equals 100 calories. This way, I can make choices that allow me to increase the volume but still keep it tasty for me.

Disadvantages If you don’t like vegetables, this is going to be a rough one – many vegetables are among the lowest in energy density, which means you can eat all of the tomatoes you wish, but you can’t each much sausage. For example, I was craving a bratwurst about a week ago, so in order to keep my day in an appropriate plan, I basically ate like a vegetarian for the other parts of the day. I was completely fine with eating the bratwurst – it was completely appropriate – but this meant lots of additional vegetables.

It also strongly helps if you’re willing to cook at home and are also willing to study the labels a bit on stuff and do a bit of basic math. The book comes with a huge number of simple recipes, but you really need to understand how they work to make this plan work, and that requires knowing how to do the math and how to find the information.

Overall, I’m a pretty big fan of this plan, but as I keep doing it, I realize that it’s really a regimentation and simplification of good sense about food. It also has a lot in common with budgeting your money – you have to plan a bit to fit in the calories for a given day, and the exercise takes planning, too.

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  1. Katie says:

    Hey Trent,
    Re: the bratwurst–try substituting a veggie product. Boca makes a delicious “sausage” which we cook on the grill–not a brat, but very satisfying. Good luck!

  2. eR0CK says:

    There is one BIG factor missing here, what was your pre/post body fat?

    You may have lost 11 pounds, but how much of that is fat versus muscle?

    You certainly don’t want to loose muscle, try using a fat measuring caliper to track the fat/muscle you’re gaining/losing.

    I’m curious if the book mentions this? If it does not make the distinction between loosing fat versus loosing muscle, I’d be suspicious of this diet book.

  3. Kay says:

    The (expensive) Jenny Craig weight loss plan is largely based on Volumetrics, and I used it to lose 60 lbs last year. I regained some after hitting a plateau and going off-plan for a few months, but by using Volumetrics and exercise, I’m down 8 lbs since getting back on track in July.

    One thing I appreciate about Volumetrics is that I can use the principles to make ordinary family meals healthier, then I can perform a couple of extra swaps to make my portions lower in calorie density (cauliflower instead of potato or rice, sauteed zucchini with tomato and a sprinkle of parmesan instead of another piece of lasagna). That way, I don’t have to make separate meals and everyone is content.

    Volumetrics isn’t some radical, rigid plan. It’s all about moderation and eating the most tasty, quality food you can for the number of calories you should have — then moving your body to keep it healthy and burning that food efficiently.

  4. Bill says:

    Agree with eROCK. Very, very often, body composition is ignored in a weight loss program. People will always chase weight loss #s, instead of improving their body composition. Think of it as improving your asset allocation in your investment portfolio.

    The best weight loss book I ever read Ultimate Diet Secrets by Dr. Gregory Ellis. He’s a blowhard but if you sift out the facts from his book, it is quite an amazing read. I’d recommend the Lite version if you’re interested in ordering it.

  5. eR0CK says:

    Bill, I couldn’t agree more.

    Too often I see people loose quite a bit of weight, but what they don’t realize is that they’re also losing muscle.

    The problem with losing muscle is that if you deviate off your diet even slightly, the muscle loss will actually allow you to get more fat rapidly since their is less muscle to eat up what you put in.

    Disclaimer, I’m not a trainer and this isn’t intended to be scientific .. just what I’ve grasped during my discussions with professional personal trainers.

  6. Sarah says:

    Can you please list your pizza dough recipe? I recently purchased a Kitchenaid stand mixer and am eager to try out pizza dough. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

  7. I haven’t actually read the Volumetrics book, but from what I have read, it seems like nuts would be limited. I In terms of weight loss, I can see why you wouldn’t want to snack on a ton of almonds for their high calories. However, in general they are quite a beneficial and healthy food.

    It also doesn’t seem like they put a lot of emphasis (maybe they do and it’s overshadowed by the vegetables focus) into lean meats. It is believed that around 30% of the calories from protein is used simply digesting it.

  8. 60 in 3 says:

    eRock and Bill, I’ve read volumetrics and I’m a bit of a fitness nut myself. In fact, I run my own fitness blog (sorry, couldn’t resist the plug). Volumetrics does take muscle mass into account in all this. They don’t recommend that you go on a very low calorie diet and then ignore all exercise as many diet plans do. Volumetrics just helps you recognize what you eat and where you’re getting your calories from.

    The basic idea behind it is that people will eat the same volume (hence the name) of food every day. Since most people tend to consume too many calories, volumetrics would have them switch in lower calorie foods. That way they keep the volume but reduce the calories.

    Note that they don’t recommend dropping calorie consumption really low. They provide guidance in picking out the right calorie level to sustain your body and then toss in some exercise on top to lose the extra weight.

    Overall, I agree with Trent, it’s a very good plan. It’s not too preachy or regimented and it doesn’t tell you specifically what to do. Instead, it just teaches you the basics of nutrition and a healthy life style.


  9. 60 in 3 says:

    Lazy Man,
    Yes, nuts are limited by this plan, although they do mention that they’re healthy. As with most things, nuts are great in moderation. While they have many healthy aspects, they’re also extremely high in calories for their size. So you can eat quite a few of them without feeling full, which is counter to the whole volumetrics idea. Volumetrics doesn’t recommend that you avoid nuts altogether, just that you be aware of what you’re eating and act accordingly.

    And they do also discuss protein. They’re actually not a pro vegetarian book. Again, they have no problem with people eating meat as long as they recognize what they eat and plan accordingly. That is, if you just ate 800 calories in meat, then you should probably lay off the additional 800 calories in fried potatoes on your plate and focus on those low energy density veggies instead.


  10. Mishal says:

    Start running!

    Walking 2 miles isn’t going to get you very far if you want to be in shape.

    Find a beautiful trail and start running as much as you can but don’t injure yourself and make sure to have fun.

    If you get a running partner that’d be even better.

  11. Chill says:

    Only problem with running is…not all of us can do it. I’m a reasonably fit male (6’1″ 150ish) but do to joint issues i can’t run anymore and are left to the low impact exercising and diet to help keep myself fit and in shape. You also can’t expect people who might just be starting out getting healthier to be able to hop out on a trail and go running. Each person has to find an activity that works for them to get the exercise needed and keep it up. I’m glad running is for you but you can’t bash those who can’t get out and do it.

  12. Cher says:

    Ummmmm…..it is very hard to lose muscle. Muscle mass or size reduces from inactivity which leads to atrophy. And those detractors who mention not being able to run? I can’t either so I adapted the exercise portion to those activities that I can do such as walking, swimming and biking. This isn’t a cure-all folks it is about finding ways to meet the needs of your body in a pratical, healthful way.

  13. Susan says:

    I gave up my car 3 years ago. I walk, bike, bus, everywhere I need to go. Took me about two months to get used to the idea. Ive never given up something that has benefitted me this much. About each 3-4 months I rent a car to pick up heavy things and or large things like pet food, laundry detergent, etc. I actually enjoy the car then, but dont become attached, and have no problem giving it back. I feel owning a car is more worry, money and responsibility than I personally want. I owned cars for 30 years so I know what ownership entails.Im glad I can get along without one. I realize some peoples, situations just simply require a car. Thats OK too.

  14. marg422 says:

    to Mishal:
    Running is what killed my knees. I’m 36 and have almost no cartidge left. I’ve had to endure surgeries and shots just so I can walk. If I lost 80 pounds today, I would still not go running again. Walking is very effective, so is the elliptical machine at the gym. Following the volumetrics regimen is actually working and I feel more energetic. The only downfall is the expense of all the fruit and vegetables I eat now.

  15. ParentHusband says:

    I am barely active. I chase my one year old around but that’s about it. I do yard work and walk though stores and zoos and the like. But really I am not active. I fall into a category of Low Activity. If I walk up 2 flights of stairs at a normal pace, I start to huff. I am out of shape.

    I should not start running. That is idiotic. I have a liver problem, which is caused by my weight. Fatty infiltrates to my liver. It will stop working unless I do something. So I am not attempting a diet to get in shape. I am doing to save my life.

    I am walking. Leslie Sansone has a number of walking videos. They are where I am starting. I can walk a mile in her video and break a sweat. This is more activity than I am used to doing in 15 minutes. I will continue everyday and then start doing her 2 mile and continue to 4 miles a day eventually.

    The problem with diets for big eaters like me is portions. “Cut down on portions.” Go kill yourself. That isn’t going to happen. Volumetrics gives me ideas for large portions of low cal food. That does not taste like crap. South Beach tastes horrible. And don’t tell me I don’t know taste. I went to Paris, I have had the best food in the world, and I have thought about going back to culinary school. I can eat what I want, but if I use their substitutions I can eat larger portions.

    Good luck to you losing weight, for whatever your reason.

    Even if I get down to the ideal weight my doctor wants I will still have 25% BMI, though that is better than my current 34%.

  16. Jen says:

    “South Beach tastes horrible.”
    What an idiotic generalization.

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